My Breast Cancer Journey Part 41: Survivorship, Motherhood, and Bobbie Formula!

Zephaniah Jon Steinke was born to us on November 1, 2021, two years after I was cured of breast cancer!

This blog post is the 41st in a series about my (and twin sister’s) breast cancer journey that began when we were 30 years old in July 2019. In 2019, I also started documenting our younger sister’s breast cancer previvorship journey. Here is a list of all of the posts written about our journey at Mayo Clinic’s Breast Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, to date. To keep tabs on new posts, sign up for the “A Daily Miracle” email list at this link. You can also follow on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

I became a mother for the first time on November 1st, 2021, exactly two years to the day after I met with the surgeon who would perform my double mastectomy that would cure my Stage 0 DCIS breast cancer. (You can read about my November 1st, 2019 surgery appointment / double mastectomy plan at this link, and about the surgery that actually happened on December 3rd, 2019, at this link. I’ve been cancer free for two years now, woohoo!)

Here is Zephaniah with my dad and me a week postpartum! Zephaniah is the youngest member of “Team Mayo Clinic” and the American Cancer Society’s “Real Men Wear Pink!”

Our son, Zephaniah, was a week late and had to be induced–but God knew what he was doing and wanted to surprise us! Not only did we get to welcome Zephaniah on “All Saints Day” but Zephaniah also got recognized as the 50,000th baby born at Maple Grove Hospital in Maple Grove, MN! You can watch a video and read an entire news story about his birth / arrival at this link. 🙂

We named him Zephaniah inspired by one of our favorite Bible verses, Zephaniah 3:17:

“The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”

That verse carried me through much of my breast cancer journey and has been a comforting promise during survivorship, as well. It’s a blessing to know it’s also the promise my husband and I will pray over our son for the rest of our lives! And, actually, my husband, who is a worship pastor and musician, sings to him regularly already 🙂

Here is my husband singing to Zephaniah!

We are so grateful beyond measure that we had a healthy birth and that our baby is healthy and happy! Almost three months into parenthood, we have three major praise reports, followed by a list of blessings we’ve experienced in our 3 months of parenthood so far:

This is me, Zephaniah, my husband, and two dogs after a 200 yard walk 5 days after delivery! It was amazing to get outside but I almost passed out after 100 yards and forced myself to turn around. Postpartum is a trip!

1) Postpartum recovery is going well!: Three months after delivery, I am FINALLY feeling ALMOST normal, mentally and physically. There’s a roller coaster of emotional and physical side effects that come with pregnancy and postpartum recovery, and extra excitement from being induced with Pitocin and experiencing a second-degree tear exacerbated everything! While I can’t wait to be back to 100%, I understand that healing from childbirth–a lot like healing from my double mastectomy!–takes time and rest. I’m still learning that following doctor’s orders to lie low for longer than I’d like is always a good idea so I can be back to full health in due time 🙂

2) A Free Year of Bobbie Baby Formula: Because my double mastectomy makes it impossible for me to breastfeed, my twin sister nominated me for a year of free baby formula from Bobbie, an organic formula company founded by women that provides a breast cancer sponsorship to survivors of breast cancer who can’t breastfeed (which is AMAZING!). This year, Bobbie sponsored ~60 breast cancer survivors with free formula for a year you can read about their breast cancer sponsorship program at this link, and see their founder in an interview on CBS at this link and posted above!). After being interviewed by their founder and executive board members (you can view highlights from our group interview at this link), I was blessed with a sponsorship this year along with ~60 other amazing breast cancer survivor mamas! I do not take this for granted because my husband and I prayed and prayed that we’d find a perfect formula that our baby would like and that was healthy. You can watch a video about the sponsorship here, and read more on this praise report below!

Here are Zephaniah and I all ready for our bobbie Zoom interview with the founder 1 week postpartum! We received a year of free formula as part of their breast cancer survivorship sponsorship!
Zephaniah wakes up happy in the mornings because he’s such a good sleeper!

3) Sleeping through the night!!: At one month old (!), Zephaniah began to sleep through the night with 1-2 feedings / diaper changes max between 11pm and 5am. Now, at almost 3 months old, he is sleeping from 10pm to 6-8am every morning!!! We do not take this blessing for granted because we have prayed every day that he’d be a good sleeper and here we are, 3 months after delivery, snagging 8+ hours of sleep per night. 🙂 Praise God!

As one of my friends recently told me, I shouldn’t try to process all that it means to become a mother all at one time, but I am going to try my best to share some of the highlights and blessings that come with being a breast cancer survivor mama here!

Here’s Zephaniah drinking up his organic bobbie formula which he LOVES!

Blessing #1: A Year of Free Bobbie Formula: Breast Cancer Survivorship Program!

First of all: Keeping an infant alive is hard work. Second: Not being able to feed them in the way God designed (breastfeeding) is incredibly challenging emotionally and mentally. These things make finding a formula your baby incredibly stressful until you find the right one–and then it’s an immense relief when you finally find a formula that works!! My husband and I knew we wanted the best formula for our baby which meant tons of nutrients and preferably organic ingredients.

Not only did we find a formula that worked (bobbie!) but it has tons of nutrients, organic ingredients, AND a sponsorship program for breast cancer survivors. Bobbie is the only female-founded and mom-led infant formula company in the U.S., and it also “joined forces with The Breasties Organization to launch an awareness campaign and public petition for moms who physically can’t breastfeed after a mastectomy to receive insurance coverage for a viable way to feed their babies” (read more about this partnership and program in this Business Insider article).

All that to say, I am so grateful to be part of this program and I recommend bobbie to any woman looking for a formula but especially breast cancer survivors looking for a formula. Bobbie is amazing, and they have resources for women who struggle with breastfeeding, too–not just breast cancer survivor mamas. So, check out their website and look around! 🙂 You can also gift it to parents you know looking for a good formula!

Here is my husband Chris feeding our son Zephaniah his first bottle of bobbie formula in the hospital!!!!

This formula has been a blessing in more ways than one. One of my fondest memories from the hospital was watching my husband feed our baby his first bottle. I still tear up with gratitude thinking about all the prayers that went into bringing us to be parents and finding the right formula. We are so thankful!

Here is my husband feeding our son Zephaniah a bottle in the middle of the night at 3:25am at the hospital!!!
My husband and mom got to be with me for labor and delivery which was AMAZING!!!
Here I am, eating a “Labor Induction” burger from The Suburban in Excelsior, Minnesota, at 40 weeks pregnant. It didn’t put me into labor like it has for 600 other women, haha!

Blessing #2: Childbirth!

I had to be induced a week after Zephaniah’s due date because he didn’t want to come out on time even though I’d been dilated 3cm for 3 weeks. Ha! When we finally got to the hospital at 41 weeks, it was Halloween night at 11pm. I was already contracting, and had been for at least a week, probably because of all the raspberry tea and curb walking I’d been doing!

Here’s my support team during contractions (my husband and mom)! The contractions were much more manageable while I bounced on a yoga ball!

They started my Pitocin at 4am, then my doctor broke my water at 7am. My contractions started with vigor right after my water broke, and I got an epidural at 8:45am. My nurse told me that “I got the epidural at just the right time.” Phew! One thing they don’t tell you about the epidural is that your body will shake uncontrollably after you get it as labor intensifies. That’s all the adrenaline. It was a crazy amount of shaking!

Here I am after getting the epidural. I was a happy camper!

I rolled around with a peanut ball between my legs, shuddering under tons of warm blankets, until 12:30pm, when my nurse decided I’d dilated to 10cm and it was time to push! That’s when the charge nurse came in and told me that, if I pushed Zephaniah out before the next scheduled C section at 2pm, he’d be the 50,000th baby.

“LET’S DO THIS!!!” I said.

And we did! Childbirth itself was a ton of fun. I really truly enjoyed pushing Zephaniah out into the world in 68 minutes (!), and the fact he was the 50,000th baby born at the hospital was an incredible blessing!! My labor and delivery team was incredible and I loved my doctor and nurses. My husband and mom got to be in the delivery room with me which was an amazing, and my nurse and doctors were such helpful coaches teaching me know how to breathe and push!

Here is my doctor and me and Zephaniah right after birth!!!

After 9 hours of active labor following Pitocin and my doctor breaking my water, I only had to push for an hour to get him to come out into the world to meet everyone!! We received a gift basket and a round of applause when he arrived, which was awesome.

Here is me and Zephaniah and the labor and delivery nurse with our basket of goodies for Zephaniah being the 50,000th baby born at Maple Grove Hospital!
Here is my labor and delivery nurse and me with Zephaniah! She was amazing!!!

Blessing #3: Surviving Postpartum Recovery!

And so we went from celebrating Zephaniah being the 50,000th baby at the hospital and being numbed by my epidural to the brutal reality of postpartum recovery. The postpartum recovery process was A LOT more difficult than I’d anticipated. I had a few friends let me know it would be challenging emotionally and physically, but nobody told me with brutal honesty how hard it would be.

Postpartum recovery in the hospital entailed lots and lots of ice, heat packs, trying to sleep, bleeding, figuring out how to use the bathroom, and figuring out how to feed a baby and change diapers!

For example, if you’re subject to any kind of tear following vaginal delivery, you bleed constantly at an alarming rate for an extended period of time. Like, for over a week. Or two. Or three. And that, immediately following delivery, it’s A LOT of constant blood. Which makes sense because you just pushed a child out of you. But it was jarring to me because the bleeding lasted for quite a bit of time–like the entire time I was in the hospital and for a while when I got home, too. I had a second degree tear which wasn’t nearly as bad as fourth degree tears some women endure but was no fun nonetheless!

Here is the donut pillow I sat on for several weeks after delivery! It was a gift from my aunt and a godsend!

And then, once I got home, where family, groceries, and meal train meals from our generous church family were!, I needed to sit on heat packs, ice packs, donut pillows, and cushions daily for at least three weeks to make the pain subside. And I also needed to take Advil and Tylenol on an alternating basis for at least three weeks to keep the pain at bay–and even then, on constant Advil / Tylenol, I still had uterine and back cramping that didn’t subside even with pain pills. I wasn’t about to ask for a narcotic, but the pain was intense enough at times that I thought I could have because even with constant alternating Advil / Tylenol the pain didn’t totally go away. So, as I bled through several pads a day and battled fatigue and postpartum headaches, my uterus continued to contract for approximately a week after delivery as well which felt like the worst menstrual cramps of my life.

Even though I had horrible back and stomach cramping during postpartum, I forced myself to walk several times a week just to be out and getting my blood flowing! Here is me and my dad out for a walk with Zephaniah strapped to me in his carrier!

And, because I had an epidural, my back hurt terribly at the site of the epidural if I walked more than 20 feet. This pain shot nerve pains all over my abdomen and triggered uterine cramps which exacerbated the nausea I was already feeling. The nausea was pretty strange because it was worse than the worst morning sickness I experienced during pregnancy, but after a bit of looking around on various pregnancy health sites (like Mayo Clinic’s), I discovered nausea can be a side effect of Pitocin, which I had plenty of due to being induced! I’m still nauseous sometimes which is kind of crazy almost 3 months out from delivery but hormonal regulation doesn’t totally get back to normal until 6 months postpartum sometimes. So I pray and wait! (At almost 3 months out, I’ve started elliptical again and am lifting dumbbells. I start pelvic floor therapy next week to regain some core strength, too!)

In addition to all of this physical strife, postpartum recovery involves plenty of emotional mood swings. Like, crying all the time. For me, that was about 4 times per day, and it can come on suddenly. When I cried, it felt largely due to an overwhelming sense of gratitude. I was grateful to have survived childbirth, to have given birth to a healthy baby boy, and to have an incredibly supportive husband, family, and support system.

Here we are about 2 weeks postpartum!

I am also grateful to have a formula to feed him and that I survived breast cancer so I could be here to help raise him alongside my husband. I am still incredibly grateful, and now, I’m 3 months out from delivery and don’t cry every day anymore. Now, it’s more like once a week. Which means my hormones are regulating. Which I also don’t take for granted!

Like my twin sister learned in her Breast Cancer Boot Camp with a Mayo Clinic psychologist: “Tears honor things that are meaningful to us.” This truth plus encouragement from my husband, family, and friends that reminded me crying constantly would only last a season, gets me through!!

Here is Zephaniah at 2.5 months, basically holding his own bottle!

Next steps!

Just over a month into parenthood, we’re grateful for God’s faithfulness and the great cloud of witnesses encouraging us along the way. 🙂 I have learned a LOT from the ~60 other breast cancer survivors who also received a Bobbie sponsorship for the formula, and LOVE having friends and family feed him bottles when we have visitors! Our Baby Brezza is a godsend as well–it makes bottles for us in 5 seconds or less!!!

Looking back briefly and looking ahead, here are some brief historical highlights and our next steps!:

October 2021: My twin sister completed “Breast Cancer Boot Camp” with a Mayo Clinic psychologist for her cancer survivorship journey and made some great fellow cancer survivor warrior friends through that program. She has gained a lot of mechanisms that will help her (and the rest of us!) with her survivorship heading into the future!

November 2021: Zephaniah Jon was born! And I became a breast cancer survivor mama!

Here’s my baby sister outside Mayo where she got an “all clear” at her most recent preventative screening!

January 2022: Our youngest sister had her clinical exam and ultrasound with our Breast Clinic doctor on January 4th, 2022; she got the “all clear!” and will be back in July for more screening!

January 2022: My twin sister started her “timed break” from Tamoxifen and will check in with her oncologist and gynecological oncology team before she starts IVF in April 2022!

February 9th, 2022: Our youngest sister is due with her first baby (it’s a girl!)

April 2022: My twin sister and I both have ovarian cancer screening checkups at Mayo. Then, my twin sister starts the IVF process with a fertility clinic in the city; I have my next follow-up appointment with our doctor at Mayo Clinic’s Breast Clinic!

We are so thankful to be where we are and for the great cloud of witnesses supporting and encouraging us physically, emotionally, and spiritually. It truly does take a village to become parents, and we don’t take one blessing for granted! God has given us Zephaniah as a little ray of sunshine to be part of my breast cancer survivorship journey from here. And for that, we are grateful 🙂

Zephaniah, my little ray of sunshine! 🙂

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